"Out of the divorces, widowhood, the singles bars, clubs, apartment and condominiums, comes a torrent of need, and it is flowing right past the door of our churches...there is boundless talent and creativity in this flood of single adults. The church can help and it can also be helped. It can give and it can receive. OPPORTUNITY IS THERE! WHAT WILL WE DO?"
-Edward & Gwen Weising, Authors of Singleness-An Opportunity for Growth and Fulfillment
“To fail to reach out to the single adult is to 'wall out' 40% of the adult population today"
-Earl Creps, Director, Doctoral Leadership Program, AGTS- Springfield, MO Adult Ministries Consultant A/G Sunday School (1997-1998)
"Every group in the church has unique needs and gifts...children, youth, men, women, marrieds etc. Because we have put emphasis on these groups for so long, we have inadvertently forgotten the singles and have led them to believe we don't expect them to be involved in ministry. The apostle Paul said that for ministry it is better to be single! (ICor. 7: 25-35) The purpose of ministry to singles is to help them see they ARE the church and to help them come to a place of ministry."
-David Reddout, Pastor, First Assembly of God--Leesville, LA-Adult Ministries Consultant, Assemblies of God Sunday School Department--1981-1985
I wholeheartedly agree with these comments! It is time, even PAST TIME that the church became aware and involved with the numbers of, needs and issues of the single and single-again people all around us. We need to develop a mentality of acceptance, wholeness and MINISTRY TO, FOR AND THROUGH this ever-increasing segment of society. It is time for the church to think new thoughts...to be bold and creative as it reaches out to an increasingly "non family community.”
Let's define the term "single adult." I am referring to unmarried adults, ages 18 or older who happen to be SINGLE BY CHANCE, CHANGE OR CHOICE, whether theirs or someone else's. They fall into one or more of the following categories:
1) Never married
2) Formerly married
4) Single Parent
(The separated person is legally married but living a single lifestyle)
Consider the need to minister to/with these adults from five perspectives.
THE EDUCATIONAL NEED
Both single and married adults grow and mature in several common areas. Singles, however, also have unique challenges. Some of these include:
-Identity as a single adult -Dating
-Career direction -Relating to parents
-Grief recovery -Loneliness-Single Parenting
-Marriage preparation -Divorce recovery
-Dealing with change -Forgiveness (self & former spouse)
Unless a church has an ongoing ministry to singles, these topics are not usually addressed from a single adult perspective. A singles ministry would be the ideal setting for these topics to be taught and discussed. If for some reason this was not feasible, occasional classes/workshops sponsored by one or several churches could be offered to address specific topics.
THE EMOTIONAL NEED
Some people might ask, “do we need a specific class or group for single adults? Can't/won't they be a part of our church's adult classes?” Most single adults feel like a fifth wheel in these classes since they are comprised mainly of married adults. Unless a church is intentional about designing classes for single adults, or the class is led by a single adult, the subject matter, illustrations and discussions relate more to married adults than singles. This leaves a person feeling left out, misunderstood and in some cases lonely.
Greg Davis from Castro Valley, CA says. "General ministry, ministry where families are the unspoken focus, can sometimes make those who are not married feel on the outside."
This certainly is not the intention of pastors and church leaders. It just happens to be a reality in churches today, due to a lack of understanding and/or experience with the single or single again person. Experience is gained quickly when a pastor or church leader's family member goes through a divorce, or perhaps reaches the age of 30 and is not yet married. Then the reality of some of his/her needs is apparent
and "hits home.”
THE NUMERICAL NEED
Carolyn Koons, an author and speaker said, "The church needs to expand its term "family," moving from a traditional family definition to one that includes singles, widows, single-parent families, extended families, expanded families, step families, and blended families. We must become the family we are-the family of God." (Baker Handbook of Single Adult Ministry-p.18)
This author is aware of the reality of the "singling of America." The single adult statistics in America are growing rapidly and affecting lifestyles and family types. Consider the following…
PERCENTAGES & TYPES OF SINGLE ADULTS (SAM Journal, Issue 130, p 7)
Never married.........................46.5 million--23.5% of all adults
Divorced..................................19.4 million---9.8% of all adults
Widowed..................................13.5 million---6.8% of all adults
Married-Spouse absent............7.2 million--- 3.6% of all adults
(separated/other) 43.9% of adults
MEDIAN AGE AT FIRST MARRIAGE (U. S Census Bureau, Internet)
1998...Men 26.7 Women…25.0
1980...Men 24.7 Women…22.0
1970...Men 23.2 Women…20.8
1960...Men 22.8 Women…20.3
NEVER MARRIED ADULTS BY AGE (U.S. Census Bureau, Internet)
1995 ...18-24 years 19,507,204
25-29 years 7,630,079
30-34 years 5,127,926
35-44 years 5,273,892
The Washington Post reported in July 1999 that Americans are less likely to marry than ever before. A Rutgers University National Marriage Project report found that the nation's "marriage rate has dipped by 43% in the past four decades. Americans still cherish the ideal of marriage but are pessimistic about finding a lasting marriage partner and are more accepting of alternatives to marriage, including living
together and single - parenting with a partner outside of marriage."
SINGLE-PARENT FAMILIES INCREASING (The Washington Post)
Female-headed families--Increased from 5.5 to 12.2 million. (122%)
Male-headed families--Increased from 1.2 to 3.2 million. (163%)
Married couple families grew only 20%, from 44.7 to 53.7 million.
SINGLE PARENT FAMILIES IN U. S. (SAM Journal #113, p. 1)
1970..............13% of all households
COHABITATION (SAM Journal -#124 and #130)
"The biggest increase in couples choosing to live together is not among twenty-somethings, but among people over the age of 35. Almost half of adults under 40 have lived with an unmarried partner." For single adults ages 35-39, 49% are currently living with someone.
From 1978 to 1998, unmarried - couple households has increased 800% from 523,000 to 4,236,000. That represents 8.5 million people.
INCREASED NUMBERS OF DIVORCED PEOPLE (U S Census Bureau, Internet)
"While marriage's front door has been closing slowly, it's back door has been widening fast. Thirty years ago, 35 in 1000 Americans were divorced. Now the figure is 148 in 1000--four times its previous size."
(George Barna-Unmarried America, p. 22)
Even more alarming is the fact that the chance of divorce increases with the number of marriages a person has. (Marriage & Divorce Today, 1988)
-41% of first marriages end in divorce
-60% of second marriages end in divorce
-73% of third marriages end in divorce
The church needs to have a high standard on divorce, and in most cases it does. God hates divorce, as all of us do because of the brokenness that comes to a family's life. Many singles ministries address this need by providing Divorce Recovery Workshops, which help a person sort through the confusion that results from a divorce, and begin the healing process.
We need to have an equally high standard on marriage, though! We would not think twice about allowing a circus into our sanctuary. However, I believe many marriages take place in our churches that are like a circus to God because they are premature and not ready for the responsibilities of marriage.
George Barna reported that 25% of Americans age 65-74 are widowed and 50% of Americans age 75 and older is widowed. (George Barna-Unmarried America) These people do not feel single for a long time. They are, however, in reality living a single life and within time come to accept singleness.
THE RELATIONAL NEED
One of the biggest desires of a single adult of any age is to have quality friendships with others of the same and opposite sex. A ministry to single adults provides an atmosphere of acceptance and openness where people can discover others with the same experiences, hopes and hurts, and establish relationships that are nurtured in a Christian context. Many have come from the bar scene, tired of the "give me,” selfish attitudes they have experienced, and are open to the grace and love of God through others.
Lisa Stevko from Castro Valley, CA says, "I don't feel like I'm just 'waiting to be married anymore.' The Singles Ministry has provided me with a circle of friends and activities.... I have others that I can talk and relate to that are being stretched and grown by God in the same ways I am."
Greg Davis, Castro Valley, CA states, "Because of common experiences there is a greater understanding of the struggles as well as help and encouragement. People without common experiences may be able to
sympathize, feel FOR you, but cannot empathize, feel WITH you, because they do not have similar experiences. (II Cor. 1: 4) Because of this commonality, there is a dynamic that fosters spiritual, emotional and relational growth."
THE SPIRITUAL NEED
Single and married adults have the same basic spiritual needs. However, because of feeling uncomfortable in many church's family-oriented programs and identities, they do not always stay around long enough for these needs to be met.
Also, because of not having a spouse to provide encouragement and spiritual support, some singles that love God may become undisciplined in their spiritual life. A specialized ministry provides a place in which to identify with others, and in this atmosphere spiritual needs such as self-esteem, commitment to
God, faith, etc can be nurtured.
Cathy Roth from Hayward, CA states, "Just getting the opportunity to observe and get to know other single Christians has at times challenged and humbled me spiritually. It has helped me to value others (quite different from myself) for the gifts God has given them and increased my tolerance and patience."
Helen Marispini from Livermore, CA writes, "Being a part of the Singles Ministry has given me a place where I can come and find friendship, encouragement and support. My friends hold me accountable to my
commitment to the Lord as we share in each others' lives."
Churches who decided they were too small or chose not to develop a single adult ministry, should at the very least work at understanding the issues singles face, and endeavor to portray open, accepting and
Informed ATTITUDES AND ACTIONS towards them. Helping a single-parent mom with occasional home or car repairs, free childcare, financial help to attend a church event, etc. shows Christ's love in practical ways.
Single and single-again people are here to stay. America has become a nation of many "family types." If the church is going to be effective in reaching, nurturing, discipline and training adults, the single adult
warrants our efforts, time, prayer and resources. The singles population is TOO LARGE TO IGNORE and the abilities and talents of these people are TOO VALUABLE TO WASTE. Their salvation is at stake!
A church of any size CAN and SHOULD minister to single adults, whether it be through an established group or individually. Of course, I believe that most churches could establish a group to reach at least ONE AGE SEGMENT of singles. Through prayerful consideration and church and community demographic surveys, more of these people could become a ministry force in your church! More individuals in your church would be emulating the GREATEST SINGLE ADULT--JESUS!